A sermon given at the 8am BCP Eucharist and the 10:30am Sung Eucharist on Sunday 15th January 2023, The Second Sunday of Epiphany, by The Rev’d Joan Claring-Bould
Between the wonderful prologue of St John’s gospel and today’s reading we have the testimony of John. The Jews had sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him “Who are you – are you the Prophet? And he replied “No, I am not worthy to untie the laces of his shoes… I baptise with water, he will baptise with the Holy Spirit. John made it clear that it was his job to “make straight the way of the Lord” (1:23).
It may seem strange to us but it becomes apparent that although they were related and would have grown up together, John is unsure when it comes to recognising Jesus in his Messianic role. “I didn’t know him but for this purpose I came baptising with water that he might be revealed to Israel (1:31)
But when John baptised Jesus he heard the voice from heaven declaring “This is my beloved Son” (1:34b), and he saw the Spirit descend on Jesus, and he knew who Jesus was.
On the next day John is accompanied by two of his disciples, and Jesus is there, John witnesses to them proclaiming “Behold, the Lamb of God”. This is the one I have been preparing for. And the disciples of John begin to follow Jesus. (1:37). John has done his work and fades into the background.
On meeting the two disciples Jesus says to them “What are you looking for?” These are the first words of Jesus in St John’s gospel, and they could be seen to be the theme of the whole of this Gospel. This question, “What are you looking for?” sits alongside the question asked of John by the priests and Levites, and which is forever asked of Jesus, “Who are you?”
These two questions are as relevant to us here today as they were for the first disciples.
To the question, “What are you looking for?” John’s disciples give a strange answer. They reply “Where are you staying?” or more accurately, “Where are you abiding?” The word abiding reminds us of the call of Jesus for us to abide in his love; In John Chapter 15 we read Jesus saying “Abide in me and I will abide in you”. (Jn 15:4-7)
To abide with Jesus means to live in an intimate relationship with him. St John would call this living close to the heart of Jesus. To abide with Jesus leads to a rich and intimate encounter with him, and when that happens faith is no longer something passed on from someone else, by being taught to us in the family, at school, Sunday school, or church but rather it becomes a rich eternal-life-giving experience based on our own encounter with Jesus. Jesus calls us all to come to him and abide with and in him.
In answer to the question of the disciples, “Where are you staying/ abiding ?” Jesus replies “Come and see”. This is the response Jesus is continually offering us. When our faith is challenged and we wonder where God is in the chaos of our world, our community, our family or our personal lives, and we cry out “Where are you Lord?”, the answer is always, “Come and see, come and abide with me. Come and abide in peace and stillness close to God’s heart, come and let me pour my healing balm upon you. Come and abide in my love. That’ where you will find me.
Returning to our story.
Andrew was one of those disciples. We are not told who the other was. Perhaps it was the Beloved disciple responsible for this gospel? Andrew recognises Jesus as the Messiah, but there is no great triumph about this in this gospel, rather his legacy is that of evangelism. Immediately he runs off to find his brother Simon, and brings him to see Jesus. Jesus sees the leadership potential in Simon and renames him, just as God had renamed Abram, Abraham. Jesus names Simon Peter, in Aramaic, Cephas – the rock.
It would take Peter until after the resurrection to grow into that title. At first Peter is rocklike, but soon he would falter. In anger he would cut off the ear of one of the men who came out to seize Jesus (Jn. 18:10), and more significantly having sworn everlasting fidelity to Jesus at a crucial time he would deny him three times (Mtt.26). And so it is only after the resurrection the Peter begins to resemble the rock that Jesus saw in him on that first meeting with Andrew.
Who is Jesus to you and to me? We will all have our own responses which will have much in common. Things we have been taught from childhood and tradition about his origin, his earthly life, death and stories of his resurrection. And then we would have a variety of understandings about his role in the determination of what happens to us after death.
And thankfully we have the theologians who have never stopped asking profound questions about Jesus and all aspects of the faith, back from its Abrahamic beginnings and further. They remind us that ours is a living faith, and the work of new theologians, liturgists and historians can bring new life to our faith, not least bringing to the fore those basic questions concerning Jesus “Who are you? Where are you abiding?”.
Today’s gospel reminds us of the central importance of our relational faith. This is expressed most clearly and beautifully in the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus in Chapter 17 of John’s gospel.
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you Father, are in me, and I in you, that they may be one in us, so…that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me….” (Jn. 17:20-25)
In his Gospel John doesn’t give us all the answers to our questions. Rather he encourages us to keep asking fundamental questions and to be open to a dialogue with Jesus, and within our community of faith, always calling us to abide in Gods love.
This morning as we come to meet him in the eucharist, Jesus asks each of us as he asked his disciples,
What are you looking for, what are you seeking?